Primary Packaging Vs Secondary Packaging


Packaging is an essential part of product design, development, distribution and presentation. Packaging takes on multiple roles and it can influence the way customers perceive products and brands, as well as provide protection for products. When discussing packaging, it’s common to come across the terms primary and secondary packaging. In this guide, we’ll talk about the roles of primary and secondary packaging and highlight key differences. 

What is primary packaging?

Primary packaging is the packaging found closest to the product. It is the first layer of packaging protection for the product you are selling and the final piece of packaging the customer or client sees when they unwrap the item. In many cases, the most important function of primary packaging is to shield the product and reduce the risk of damage. However, it is essential to note that if the primary packaging is visible, it can also play a part in branding and creating positive impressions. 

Often, primary packaging is contained within secondary packaging. In the food industry, for example, primary packaging is a drinks carton or a foil packet of crisps within a multipack. For medicines and pharmaceuticals, primary packaging examples include bottles and strips that hold tablets. 

What is secondary packaging?

Image: Pack if Sainsbury’s Healrthcare Ibuprofen

Secondary packaging is predominantly used to organise and store multiple products for efficient logistics and create eye-catching aesthetics, which will turn heads and encourage customers to buy products. Examples of secondary packaging include gift boxes for bottles of wine or spirits, cases used to carry cans of drinks and folding cartons for food products. 

Secondary packaging has a practical, functional purpose, but the importance of visual appeal should not be overlooked. Many people are influenced by packaging design. Over 70% of consumers admit to buying products as a result of the packaging (source). 

Primary packaging vs secondary packaging

Primary and secondary packaging have essential roles, but often, they are different. Here are some of the key differences between primary packaging development and secondary packaging:

  1. Main function
  • Primary packaging

The main function of primary and secondary packaging often varies. Primary packaging is designed to protect the product, maximise the chances of safe delivery and ensure that the item arrives in pristine condition when the recipient opens a box, carton or bottle, for example. 

Primary packaging also has a part to play in preserving the product and ensuring durability and longevity. Effective primary packaging should reduce the risk of wear for material products and preserve food products. 

In the pharmaceutical industry, primary packaging is also critical for safety reasons. Many people will buy products from a pharmacy, for example, and discard the box. Including dosage instructions and guidelines on the primary packaging can help to ensure that individuals have access to the information they need. 

  • Secondary packaging

The primary functions of secondary packaging are to organise products and make them stand out. Packaging design is an integral part of company branding strategies and it can make the difference between a consumer choosing one product over another. In addition to capturing attention, communicating brand messages and attracting customers, secondary packaging also offers logistical benefits. Often, secondary packaging is used to hold multiple products and keep them together in an organised manner. Secondary packaging makes it easier to handle and move products and it also enhances displays. 

Secondary packaging can also offer additional protection for the product to reduce the risk of damage. 

  1. Location

Primary packaging is found closest to the product. In many cases, the product will either be contained or surrounded by primary packaging. Secondary packaging is usually an exterior layer. In the case of a bottle of aspirin pills, for example, the bottle that holds the tablets would be the primary packaging and the box that contains the bottle would be secondary packaging. 

Essential considerations for primary and secondary packaging

There are several factors to consider when developing packaging designs and creating packaging for products. These include:

  • Quality: the quality of packaging is incredibly important. High-quality packaging will help to protect products and prevent damage and it can also impact brand image and reputation. Consumers will not be happy if they open a brand new product to find that they can’t use it or they have to throw some of the product away because it’s broken or spoiled. 
  • Accessibility: developing effective packaging involves finding a balance between style and substance. You want your products to look amazing on a shelf, but they also need to be functional and accessible. Buyers need to be able to get to the product. Studies show that 20% of consumers would not buy from a brand again if they found it hard to get into the product (source). 
  • Aesthetic appeal: the majority of consumers gravitate towards products that look enticing and inviting. Packaging designs have an influence on brand perception and buying decisions. Businesses and brands must ensure that any visible packaging, either primary or secondary, is visually appealing. 
  • Logistics: companies all over the world ship goods to reach customers far and wide. One of the most important tasks to get right is developing packaging that is both easy and economical to ship. 
  • Sustainability: sustainability has never been more important. Businesses can make a positive difference to the environment by utilising sustainable materials and they can also enhance their brand reputation. A recent survey revealed that 80% of consumers would like to see more sustainable packaging (source). 


Primary and secondary packaging play an instrumental role in protecting products, ensuring they reach consumers in perfect condition and helping brands to attract attention. Primary packaging is found closest to the item and it is often surrounded by or enclosed within secondary packaging. Primary packing is designed to shield the product, while secondary packaging is important for logistics and for branding and marketing purposes. Primary and secondary packaging should be used together to keep products safe, facilitate efficient organisation and shipping and encourage customers to take a closer look when browsing aisles or shelves.